Mrs Columbo: A Chilling Surprise

This show really didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be. We’ve gone from thriller to Columbo-esque how-will-she-catch-’em murders, to whodunits with an amateur sleuth who is always placing herself in danger, and now the writer this week seemed to think he was writing for a comedy series. It’s not especially funny, but it is something approaching a farce. That does not play to this show’s strengths, because it fails to make use of the element of the series that was really working well: endangering Kate and making that scary. Instead, it’s all a bit silly, and for the first time ever I was not too enamoured of Kate Mulgrew’s performance, which is much broader here. To be fair, I’m not sure what else any actress could have done with the material she was given for this episode.

The mystery concerns a restaurant co-owner who is apparently killed with poison. The problem for Kate is that his body disappears while she is seeking help, along with his car. As Mike says, “I’ll tell you how it looks, Kate. He just got up and drove away.” There’s another problem with that, because Kate already knows Zev, the possible victim (in yet another example of Kate just happening to be involved already with the victim – that’s wearing paper thin now), and is convinced he wouldn’t stage his own death. He was finally happy with his life, running a very successful restaurant. Without a body, the police won’t do much, despite evidence of poison in the wine, but I suppose that’s par for the course. Mike says there is “no direct evidence of a crime being committed”, but if wine laced with poison isn’t evidence, I don’t know what is.

“No body, no murder, no case, no help.”

Kate soon discovers a tangled web. Zev’s business partner Teddie was having an affair with Zev’s wife Judy, while Zev was having an affair with Teddie’s young girlfriend Dorsie, who was head chef at their restaurant. When it seems like Zev is alive after all, eventually his body does turn up in a surprise moment, in a frozen food locker, but in the few minutes it takes for Kate to get help (do you see a pattern developing here?), his body has gone and another dead man has taken his place. This is the best moment of the episode, because it seems to defy explanation. The dead man is Oscar Riddle, a private detective, but he was killed while Kate was outside the building, so what has happened to Zev? Matters are even more complicated when Teddie shows up at the murder scene, tied up and with a bag over his head. It looks like somebody has been working hard to frame Teddie, because Riddle was killed with Teddie’s gun. By the time Zev’s body shows up for the third time in a cupboard, this time definitely dead at last, the episode has become something of a farce, and yet it is a very interesting mystery that gets the brain going. As Mike says, “it’s too complicated.”

In a case as complicated as this, it’s still relatively easy to figure out at least one culprit, as she’s the person who drops out of the narrative for most of the episode. She’s also the one who tells Kate to “F off” (my abbreviation). At least, I think she does. There are no English subtitles on my DVD set, and I replayed the scene several times as I couldn’t quite believe that language would have been used on this show back in 1979, but it seems clear enough, and it’s a shocking moment for a show that has always been free from any bad language at all. Perhaps it was intended to suggest that anyone who uses that kind of language in anger against our lovely Kate is capable of anything, or perhaps to reflect the immorality of this sorry bunch of people.

Apart from the silly acting and even sillier incidental music, I quite liked this one, because it did make the brain work. The second (or first) murder victim Riddle was aptly named. But in the end it was all a bit too unrealistic. The scene that probably sums up how far removed this is from reality is when Kate takes Jenny to the cold store murder scene, so she can restage the crime and time it, getting her young daughter to pretend to be shot and killed. This does not strike me as good parenting. It’s all a lot of disposable nonsense, which passes a happy enough 45 minutes, but I was hoping for so much more from this series. The previous episode offered a taste of how good this show could be. With just three episodes remaining, I just hope we haven’t seen the best this series had to offer already.   RP

Read next in the Junkyard… Mrs Columbo: Falling Star

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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4 Responses to Mrs Columbo: A Chilling Surprise

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Thank you for your review, RP, and Happy Easter to the Junkyard.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Norman says:

    Colombo is great by himself no wife just him solving the cases yes he’s married but don’t bring the wife into it so much it’ll ruin the series well it’s made already a lot of series without his wife . Colombo series are good as they are enough said.. No

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roger Pocock says:

      I’ve seen this comment a thousand times on social media. In Columbo groups, it’s the most broken record of them all. But ultimately it’s not the same series and nobody had to watch it. What I’m trying to do is evaluate it on its own merits, whilst discussing the links to the parent show where appropriate. Most of the time, those links are no longer relevant. By this point, she isn’t even “the wife” any more.

      Liked by 1 person

    • DrAcrossthePond says:

      Norman, thanks for sharing thoughts with us, but I have another thought to pair with Roger’s.
      I get the idea that sometimes less is more, but if we said a show was good enough on its own and therefore didn’t benefit from more, we’d be shooting down a massive number of the shows we love. Consider just the shows we’ve discussed on The Junkyard:
      Doctor Who spawned The Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood, Class and K-9.
      Star Trek spawned The Next Generation, Voyager, Enterprise, Prodigy, Discovery, Picard, Strange New Worlds, Lower Decks and Deep Space Nine and animated 1973 Trek.
      Buck Rogers had Buster Crabbe star but eventually gave us Gil Gerard.
      The Twilight Zone has come back repeatedly, most recently by Jordan Peele.
      The Outer Limits was resurrected to excellent effect.
      Buffy gave way to Angel.
      But perhaps the closest example is Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes since that’s both a mystery series and one of the top 2 detectives of all time (coupled with Columbo himself). After Brett, no one has ever held a candle to the character. But imagine the world without the Cumberbatch series? That’s outstandingly good. He’s not Brett, but he’s also not meant to be – he’s a modern retelling of the same character. And frankly Ronald Howard and Robert Downey Jr have both been loads of fun to watch as Holmes. So has Christopher Plummer, Tom Baker, Matt Frewer and the dozens of others who have played him. None compare to Brett but they all have merit and are enjoyable.

      Don’t get me wrong, I do agree that less is often more. When they attempted to recreate The Prisoner as a 6 episode miniseries starring Ian McKellen and Jim Caviezel, it was an astonishing disappointment unworthy of the title, but that was the exception. I’ve never seen Mrs. Columbo but the fact that it was made should be looked at on its own merits and seen as something of a feather in the cap of the original series because it was clear the audiences wanted more and the writers were looking for a way to extend the franchise. No harm in that. ML

      Liked by 1 person

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